GOP narrowly retains Portman's seat

By Peter Savodnik

Republican Jean Schmidt narrowly defeated Iraq War veteran Paul Hackett (D) in today's special election
to fill the seat recently vacated by former Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

The close election in the staunchly conservative district suggests the war may be a growing problem for
Republicans heading toward the midterm elections, Democrats said.

Hackett's campaign manager, David Woodruff, predicted shortly before 10 p.m. that the Democrat would lose by
about 2,000 votes. Chris McNulty, the state Republican Party's executive director, estimated Schmidt, a former state legislator, would get 52 percent of the vote versus Hackett's 48 percent.

Hackett is the first veteran of the war to run for Congress. He sought to make his military record, and his opposition to President Bush's policies, the centerpiece of his campaign.

That record gave Hackett's campaign traction,Republicans said. But in the end, the district, which backed Bush over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) last year 2 to 1, proved too conservative for him.
 
Republicans downplayed the implications of the race in the 2nd-District, encompassing much of the Cincinnati
suburbs.

"It's relatively close, but not a surprise for a special election in August, when it's hard to communicate to people that there's even an election," McNulty said.

The state's Republican Party, under the leadership of Gov. Bob Taft, is in shambles, many state Republicans
concede.

A Democratic aide in Washington said that his party would view a 10-point loss in the House race as a victory, given the president's popularity in the 2nd District and the fact that Republicans spent nearly $1 million, Democrats said, to hold what has been a safe GOP seat.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee lent volunteers and campaign staff to the effort, ran a television and sent two pieces of mail to voters,Woodruff said.

Woodruff said that by noon the Hackett campaign, with 400-plus volunteers, had dropped door hangars on
25,000 homes in the district.

Woodruff depicted his candidate as a free-spirited, honest and unafraid of mixing profanity into his stump
speech. Asked about Hackett's political future, Woodruff said the Democrat, a major in the Marine
Corps who spent seven months in theater, would return to Iraq in February.

Jason Mauk, the state GOP's political director, said Hackett's focus on the war had deprived voters of a
debate about Social Security reform, energy policy and other issues.